Western fans have already been able to enjoy a slice (albeit a somewhat small one) of Ryohgo Narita's Durarara series of light novels courtesy of its anime adaptation, which has both been streamed by Crunchyroll and released physically via Beez Entertainment in the UK. If that trip into the dizzying, bustling world of Ikebukuro left you thirsty for more, then Yen Press' first major new release for 2012 is a potentially exciting one, bringing the franchise's anime adaptation to English speakers.
For those familiar with the series from that aforementioned anime adaptation, a large chunk of what you see in this opening manga volume certainly won't surprise you, as we arrive in Tokyo's sprawling Ikebukuro district via Mikado Ryuugamine, a boy bored of his life in his hometown and hoping for adventure as he begins his high school life afresh thanks to an invitation from long-time friend Masaomi Kida. Much of this opening volume serves as a tour of the district and, more importantly, some of its roster of unique and intriguing characters, some of whom Mikado meets in person while the reputation of others precedes them. Regardless, come the end of the volume we know that Ryuugamine's life is going to be anything but boring during his stay.
This necessity to introduce a relatively large number of individuals in a short space of time means that Durarara has to jump around a lot in terms of its story-telling by its very nature, and while this can never be done as slickly on paper as you can on-screen thankfully such transitions remain clean and clear throughout - there's a lot for newcomers to the series to take in, but you'll never be overly confused by what's going-on unless the manga explicitly *wants* you to be confused by something for a while.
While introducing characters but not doing a vast amount with them initially runs the risk of making for a dull opening volume, luckily almost all of the characters which we meet here can stand alone simply on account of their personalities; whether it's via their exuberance, referential comedy, mysterious nature or the fact that they seem downright evil, just following these characters for fleeting moments in their daily lives gives us plenty to digest, and to call any of the lives on show here "normal" would be a stretch. Even if you've come to the series via its anime adaptation, there's enough to keep your interest here - some elements of the story introduced later on in that adaptation are quickly brought to the fore here, while Izaya Orihara in particular gets a far more chilling introduction that has far more impact than was ever achieved in animated form.
As has become par for the course with Yen Press' releases these days, the presentation for this first volume of Durarara really can't be faulted - it feels like a labour of love just from a glance at the cover, with its glossy "Keep out" banners helping the release to stand out. Taking a look inside won't disappoint either, with some fold-out pages and colour illustrations to fully recreate the look and feel of the original Japanese edition. The volume's text has been translated solidly and is eminently readable, with plenty of translation notes to help you with references that might otherwise pass you by.
Although I'd probably argue that Akiyo Satorigi, who illustrates this manga, hasn't quite captured Suzuhito Yasuda's original light novel character depictions perfectly here, the overall art style is functional and occasionally pleasing - "black biker" Celty in particular was almost made for the manga format, with her formless black shape and abilities looking fantastic throughout. It's too early to really say how the artwork will work out until we reach some of the story's more pivotal moments, but after having doubts about the look of the manga from its cover art I have to confess it's won me over so far at this early juncture.
Due to its deeply nested, interwoven and sprawling nature it'll take another volume or two before we can really pin down Durarara as to how proficiently it'll be able to depict its story given those complexities, but what we can say is that this is a very good start indeed to this manga adaptation. It succeeds in containing all of the character and pace of the anime series which will have attracted many to this release, while also proving capable of striking out in its own direction closer to its light novel roots when required. Time will tell as to whether the full intelligence of the franchise will come through via this medium, but we have high hopes based on this showing.